My Convertible Life

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Traditions: Front Porch Pumpkins

Christmas traditions can be wonderful, conjuring up memories of happy times together with friends and family. They can also be stressful, piling up into to-do list items a mile long. The key to the successful tradition is to find the right ratio of enjoyment to effort.

Using that scale, my most favorite tradition is the Christmas Pumpkin. It requires almost no effort on my part -- all I have to do is not carve my Halloween pumpkins and leave them on the front porch until December -- and I get unending joy every time I look at my house.

What's a Christmas pumpkin, you ask? And how you can you get some with so little work? Well, you start by living across the street from Ms. Marty. Because the truth is that the Christmas pumpkins actually take a great deal of effort -- it's just that she's the one who makes it all happen.

It started with felt in 2009, when I accidentally left my pumpkins on the porch past Thanksgiving.
And then there were lights in 2010.
In 2011, she took it up a notch with this little crowd. Their song sheets are for "Silent Night," in case you can't tell.
2012 arrived all tied up in ribbons and bows.
 And just when we couldn't imagine what could happen for 2013...
Seriously, y'all -- that's eight tiny pumpkin reindeer led by a pumpkin Rudolph and pulling a pumpkin Santa's sleigh and his bag of toys. That one we had to bring inside to display on the table because it's just too cute. (And yes, the middle-schooler in me laughs every time my kids say "Look at the HO on the front steps!")

So, to recap, in case you want to implement this tradition at home:
  • Step 1: Move across the street from Marty.
  • Step 2: Buy an assortment of pumpkins for Halloween. Do not buy them too early and do not carve them.
  • Step 3: Wait patiently.
  • Step 4: Enjoy the brilliance. Be careful not to puncture any of the pumpkins.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Today is my 41st birthday.

I started the day with friends at our neighborhood boot camp at 5:45 a.m. in a cold misty rain. This seems crazy, I know. But it's actually a good thing.

Going to boot camp, especially when it's cold and/or raining, makes me feel like a badass. Like I'm tougher than I thought I was. Like if I can do burpees and diamond push-ups and kickboxing crunches outside in the dark when it's almost cold enough to snow, then I can probably handle whatever else is coming at me today.

This is what I learned in my year of being 40: Every life needs a little badassery* in it.

Ordinary life can be a big heap of mundane scheduled into a whole lot of routine. Some of that ordinary can be wonderful -- my daughter's small hand in mine on the way into school, my son's wiggly eye brow when he tells a joke, my husband's secret code text telling me he's on the way home. Some moments, the every day is  total chaos -- too many practices, games, meetings, lists, demands and errands colliding into a pile. There are so many things I simply cannot do or cannot do well that the stress of it all makes me buckle.

But I'm finding that if I can carve out some part of my life to feel like a badass -- even just here and there -- it all seems closer to possible.

I've never actually been much of a badass. I tend to be the person who follows the path, does what's expected, takes the easy option. But over the past 40 years, some of my best experiences were those that caused me to summon up some extra courage and at least pretend like I had a little badass alter ego.

These days, I'm not likely to get my belly button pierced or live overseas for a year, so I have to look to smaller spaces to find my badassery. More often than not, it's boot camp -- or whatever alternate workout opportunity my boot camp friends lure me into. Like aerial boot camp, for example.

It started, as most crazy ideas do these days, with a Living Social deal. Some of you may remember the last time I purchased an online deal for a class. It involved a pole. There was only one class. There are, mercifully, no photos.

This time, there are pictures -- and they make me (perhaps unreasonably) proud.

I should explain that the "aerial" portion of aerial boot camp for beginners involves trying to climb heavy streamer-like silks that are hanging from the very tall ceilings. You start by gripping both silks in our hands, then wrapping one leg around the silks and looping it over that foot. Pulling your body up with your arms, you lift your other foot and trap the silks against the bottom foot and inch your hands higher up the silks. After unwrapping your bottom foot, you pull your legs up, loop your foot back in, pinch again with the other foot, and continue on up the silks.

That description makes no sense when I write down, but trust me it's even harder to actually do it.

The first class, I didn't get much higher than this:

The second class, I barely made it off the ground.

But the third class? Well, this photo was taken when I was on my way back down. From the top. As in, touched-the-metal-ring-connecting-the-silks-to-the-ceiling top.
By the time I got back to the floor, my heart was pounding, arms and legs were shaking, and hands were burning. But damn, I felt like a badass.

And if I can do that? Well, then I can sure as hell handle 41. 

*For real, y'all, that sounds like a made-up word, but it is in the Oxford now so I'm using it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sharing My Collection

I am a collector -- not in any official way, but more in my approach to the world. I collect family photos, my children's drawings and baby clothes, posters and tchotchkes from traveling, lots of books, letters from friends. I even collect actual friends.

Being a collector is part of why I write this blog. I like to collect ideas, stories, memories to share and revisit.

Letting go is not my strong suit.

When each of my grandparents passed away, I inherited pieces of furniture from their homes. Over time, I accumulated scores of items large and small between things I received directly from them and things I scavenged from my parents' attic.

Some of the furniture I took was purely functional. But many of the items hold personal significance. There's the picnic table that my grandfather built out of the hatch cover from an old ship -- he taught me to pick crabs at that table when I was a kid. It weighs a ton, but makes a quirky rough dining room table under the crystal chandelier from my in-laws. Or there's the antique sofa that my grandmother saved specifically for me, her only grand-daughter -- we recovered it in red corduroy to make it less fancy, but the curved feet at the bottom still set a grand tone.

But after years of taking in these hand-me-down treasures, our decor sometimes looks like we did all our shopping in the Dead Relatives Collection -- and there's only so much space for keeping furniture in our house.

So when we started talking about decorating Pippi's big girl room, I realized there were two pieces I was going to have to let go. One was a white dresser with glass knobs that had been in my room and my brother's room when we were kids and then in both nurseries when my children were babies. The other was an upholstered rocking chair that had belonged to my grandmother before serving as my reading chair in my teens and 20s and then my nursing chair in my 30s.

I considered selling them on Ebay or Craig's List, but never seemed ready to make the leap to post them online. Too much hassle. I thought about taking them to an antique store or consignment shop, but just couldn't bring myself to do it. No one else would think the furniture was as valuable as I did. How do you put a price on something filled with memories of multiple childhoods? It sounds melodramatic, but how could I haggle over the space where I rocked my children to sleep?

And then I found the Green Chair Project, a nonprofit organization co-founded by Jackie Craig and Beth Smoot in April 2010 to take quality donations from people like me (who have too much furniture but have a hard time letting go) and get them to people in transition (who actually need the items). The Green Chair makes the furnishings available for a nominal fee to individuals and families identified and referred by its partner agencies.

What makes The Green Chair different is that their warehouse is actually staged and decorated. It's not a pile of castaway junk that no one wanted, left behind for others to dig through. Instead, visiting The Green Chair is like wandering through any other furniture store or consignment boutique, allowing the recipients to shop with dignity as they furnish their home and create nurturing environments for themselves and their families.

I don't know who has my dresser and rocking chair now. But I like to imagine that somewhere there's a mom making a new life for herself and her baby, tucking away tiny onesies or snuggling together to nurse before bedtime. Or maybe it's a little girl who loves books as much as I do, happy for her own space to curl up and disappear into a story.

Letting go wasn't easy -- but somehow giving away the furniture instead of selling it seemed like the best way to honor the memories that have no price tag. Letting go created a new opportunity to be part of someone's next chapter. Letting go opened up space in both my house and my heart.

And I still get to collect the memories.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

# 21

Since July, I've written two blog posts. I posted once in August and once in October. And one of those was a recipe.

That's pitiful.

In 2009, when I started this blog, I wrote 158 posts. In 2013, this post will make 21.

Back in May, I wrote about the incredible experience of reading at Raleigh's first Listen to Your Mother and promised myself I would start writing more regularly again.

Back then, I thought I would have more time to write starting this fall -- with both of my children in school now, I would finally have a morning or two when I wasn't in the office or chasing little people and I'd be able to focus on writing again. Except it seems that every week there are doctor's appointments and grocery lists and volunteer projects and office work that spills over and a messy house that doesn't self-clean -- and suddenly those two free mornings are spent.

Then Friday, the incredible Anne Lamott posted this on her Facebook page. Specifically, she wrote:
You're pursuing a creative call of some sort, now? You're not pretending that you are going to get back to writing, singing, dance, as soon as this or that happens--i.e. as soon as you graduate or retire, or your youngest leaves home? You're doing it NOW, badly, herky-jerkily, as a debt of honor? That is the bigger meaning of it all: creation.
So here I am, doing it now. Badly, maybe, but starting again. Maybe I can get to 25 before the year's end.

And you? You know who you are... Thanks for being here with me. Now I have to go and write some more. Hope to see you soon.

Photo: That's me with the top down, not just a gratuitous shot up my nose. Stopped, not driving, so it's totally safe. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Vote Yes for Wake County

What if the ceiling in your office leaked every time it rained, leaving your papers and books almost always slightly damp?

What if you had to evacuate your office in the middle of the work day because the HVAC unit on the roof above you caught fire on occasion?

What if, when the HVAC wasn't on fire, it simply didn't work sometimes, leaving you sweating in the summer and freezing in the winter without notice?

What if you had to squeeze in an extra five coworkers into your cubicle? Or what if you didn't even have your own desk, but instead just traveled around your office to whatever space was available at that moment?

Now imagine that your job is going to school -- as a student or a teacher -- under those conditions every day. And for some in Wake County's public schools, they don't have to imagine it because they're living it. That's not what I want for my kids or for the rest of the children and educators in Wake County.

Thankfully, we have an opportunity to change those conditions. 

Next Tuesday, October 8, Wake County votes can say "YES" to an $810 million bond issue that would allow the county to borrow money to pay for school construction, renovations and technology.

Here are the facts:
  • The plan was proposed by the county board of education and approved by the county commissioners -- it may be one of the few things that the two boards agree on. 
  • Bonds are the smartest way to pay for construction and renovations, in the same way that most families use a mortgage to pay for their homes. Wake County has a triple-A bond rating from all three national rating agencies -- the highest possible rating -- which allows the county to get the best interest rates.
  • A little more than half of Wake’s 170 schools would share in $244.9 million for renovations. That includes six schools getting major renovations and 79 schools getting small amounts to replace aging equipment, such as work on HVAC systems, electrical systems and roofing. Thousands of children are spending their days in these buildings -- they deserve a space that allows them to succeed at their job as students.
  • One of the schools slated for major renovations is Green Elementary, where the media center roof leaked and the HVAC caught on fire when Junius was in first grade. Again, they're not talking about putting in marble floors in the gym and a chocolate fountain in the cafeteria -- it's about creating a safe and productive learning environment for children.
  • The $810 million bond issue would cover most of a $939.9 million school construction program. Of that, $533.75 million would pay for 16 new schools to help keep up with enrollment projections.
  • Wake County grows by an average of 64 people each day (that's about three kindergarten classrooms) -- the recession slowed growth some in recent years, but it hasn't stopped people from coming to the area. The county expects to pass the 1 million mark in just two years.
  • Wake is already the 16th largest school district in the nation with more than 150,000 students. More than 20,000 new students are expected by 2018; more than 30,000 by 2020.  Since our last bond in 2006, Wake County has added more than 170,000 people -- and they are still coming.
  • To accommodate this growth, the proposed building program includes 11 new elementary schools, three middle schools, and two high schools to be built in the next five years.
  • Charter and private schools can accommodate only a small portion of the student population, even with the recent growth in charter options. 
  • Even if you don't have students in Wake's public schools, living in a high quality district benefits your quality of life -- from the resale value of your home to the caliber of graduates living in your community.
  • The bond would result in an increase in county property taxes; the owner of a home assessed for taxes at $263,500 (the average value of a Wake County home) would pay an additional $11.52 per month. That seems a small price to pay for schools that work.
  • Voting against the bond doesn't mean that there will be more money for other things, like teacher salaries or special programs. School construction and teacher pay (as strange as it may sound) aren't connected and don't come from the same place. Bond money can only be used for capital expenses, meaning school construction, renovation and technology. Paying for those capital costs without the bond will either end up costing more or force the district to cancel some of the plans -- or both.
Mark your calendar, set a reminder on your phone or put a post-it note in your car -- but just don't forget to vote on Tuesday. There are at least 153,152 reasons to vote yes, with more on the way.

Click here to learn more about the bond and click here for information about voting.

Note: Current student enrollment numbers updated on 10/4/13 based on 10th day totals.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recipe: Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

If your children are anything like mine, they're strangely picky about what they will and won't eat. One loves breaded fish, but won't eat black beans. The other happily eats quinoa, but refuses grilled chicken. 

Given that both will eat more than cereal or mac-n-cheese, I should probably just be grateful. But I keep trying to sneak healthy items into their diet nonetheless. 

Enter the brilliance of zucchini chocolate chip cookies. This recipe arrived courtesy of The Produce Box with a heap of locally-grown zucchini, so I gave it a try. While the cookies turned out more cake-like than I expected, they were a complete and total hit -- both kids (and my husband) loved them! We've also shared them with other friends ages 8 and under with regular success.

Full disclosure: The first time I made the cookies, I didn't tell the kids what was in them. After they had already enjoyed them, then I confessed. Now they find it highly entertaining to tell their friends there's a "secret ingredient" in the cookies.

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (I used a heaping 1/4 tsp.)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded zucchini (I used 1 medium-sized zuke)
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips (I used the mini-sized semi-sweet ones)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I never actually do this at the beginning because it takes me longer to get everything ready than it takes the oven to heat up. Is that just me? Or is it just because I have a five-year-old "helping" me?)
  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add egg, honey and vanilla.
  3. Combine flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Blend flour mixture into liquid mixture. Mix in shredded zucchini and chocolate chips until well combined.
  4. Drop cookies by spoonful onto greased baking sheet and flatten with the back of a spoon. (I used parchment paper and no grease. You definitely want to keep the dough flat because the cookies don't really melt down at all.)
  5. Bake for 10-13 minutes. (My oven needs 13.)

Do you have a favorite recipe with a "secret ingredient" disguised inside? Share it in the comments so we can all enjoy your genius.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's 5: Pandora Stations

Among the reasons why I love our TiVo is the ability to stream Pandora through our television. Having music on in the house makes me happy, but we don't have a radio that works well downstairs and I'm generally too lazy to actually put a CD in the CD player -- yes, I still have CDs, so shut up.

Anyway, we have a long list of stations that we've compiled over time -- a little something for every occasion. What I've learned over much trial and error is that sometimes the best stations come not from artists or genres, but from specific songs.

You'll want to tweak them as you listen to steer them in the direction you like best, but here are five of our favorite stations:
  1. Man or Muppet Radio: This station is my kids' favorite, not surprisingly. It includes a range of Disney movie songs from Mary Poppins to Tangled, but also most of the songs from the most recent Muppet movie. My personal favorite is the Spanish-language version of Gonzo's chickens singing "Forget You" (you know, because chickens clucking in Spanish is totally different than clucking in English).
  2. The Girl from Impanema Radio: The summer before I got pregnant with Junius, my husband and I spent a few days in South Beach. Two nights in a row, we went to this great club and listened to a fantastic Latin jazz band. Now, on the rare occasion that we get our kids to bed early, this is the station we pick to bring back that same mood. Goes best with mojitos.
  3. The Dog Days Are Over Radio: Strangely enough, I discovered this Florence + the Machine song via the spectacular Pentatonix on "The Sing-Off." Once I got accustomed to the original version, I found that it pulled together a station of some familiar songs and lots more I didn't know into a really interesting station.
  4. This Must Be the Place Radio: I love 80s music and have more than one 80s-related station set in Pandora. But this one gets to a really nice mix of 80s that my husband enjoys listening to as well (translation: it's not all Bon Jovi and Tiffany).
  5. Flashlight Radio: Sometimes my day just needs a little funk and Parliament is the way to get it. Ha da da dee da hada hada da da. That is all.
Leave a comment with your favorite Pandora station and share the good listening...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Moral Monday: Paying for Good Schools

In my previous job, I had the good fortune to find myself often attending meetings with Dudley Flood. You can read his full bio here, but he's served in a range of education roles from 8th grade teacher to associate superintendent for the NC Department of Public Instruction, where he retired in 1990. He holds degrees in education from NC Central University, East Carolina University and Duke University. In short, he's got the credentials and the experience to know what he's talking about when it comes to education.

But beyond his resume, Dr. Flood is a great storyteller -- and he weaves a fascinating tale of what he's seen over decades of involvement in public education. One of my favorite comments that I recall hearing in his speeches goes something like this:
People always say you can't just throw money at a problem. But just once, I'd like to try it out and see what happens.
That's what I want to say to our state legislature this week, as they prepare to pass a budget that strips ever more funding away from our public schools. Actually, what I really want to say to them isn't fit to print, so I'll just start with that.

Now of course, I don't actually mean throw the money. I don't mean like a pinata where the kids scramble to stuff their pockets with loose change.

What I mean is this: What would happen if we funded public education so that:

  • Teachers were paid as true professionals, particularly those with graduate degrees and extensive experience, to demonstrate the value of the job?
  • Schools were built to comfortably seat all the students and provide adequate teaching space for all classes?
  • Schools struggling to meet students' needs got extra assistance, including instructional coaches, literacy specialists and customized professional development for all faculty and staff?
  • Classes were small enough for teachers to be able to differentiate instruction and really address students' needs, or teacher assistants staffed most classrooms to supplement instruction and help manage the workload?
I want to know what that would look like. I want my tax dollars to go toward making those things happen. I want to live in a state that makes those kind of commitments.

But instead, North Carolina gets a General Assembly that:

  • Eliminates salary increases for teachers with advanced degrees starting in 2014 and teachers have only had one pay increase (a measly 1.2%) since 2008. Because why would you want to encourage and reward educators for pursuing more education? They're only teaching your children, after all.
  • Argues to remove building authority from local school boards, threatening the passage of upcoming school bonds (thankfully it appears this bill is dead, although it's had more lives than a cat).
  • Funds a $10 million voucher program (in the first year) to give some families "a way out" to leave for private schools without addressing any of the problems or challenges facing students and teachers in the public schools left behind.
  • Removes caps on class sizes and eliminates teacher assistants in 2nd and 3rd grades. If you've ever been the only adult in a room with 30 seven-year-olds for more than an hour, you know this is a bad idea.

It may be true that throwing money around won't fix anything. But depriving schools of the basics needed to get the job done sure as hell doesn't solve anything either.

Instead, targeting money at real solutions could make a world of difference: Ensuring teachers earn enough money that their children don't qualify for medicaid, constructing facilities that get students out of trailers and into well-equipped classrooms, coaching schools in research-based practices to make them more effective at reaching every child, creating environments that encourage learning and generate productive working conditions.

That's not throwing money around -- that's called investing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

LTYM: Watch Me Read to You!

Who knew that watching a video of myself presenting my writing on stage at the Listen to Your Mother show in May would make me more nervous than actually presenting my writing on stage at the show? But when I got the email today saying the videos had been posted, my heart started racing and my palms got all sweaty.

Watching myself is crazy weird. That's all I have to say about that.

But I loved being part of this show with our amazing producers Marty and Keanne and all of the great cast members, so I absolutely must share it with you. Now go fix yourself a beverage, find a comfortable spot to sit, and settle in to watch our show...

After you've watched all the awesomeness from the Raleigh-Durham show (trust me when I tell you to it's worth watching them ALL), be sure to check out the other 23 cities

The LTYM video launch is made possible thanks to our national video sponsor The Partnership at We are proud to promote their message of preventing prescription drug misuse and abuse.  Take a moment and check out The Medicine Abuse Project to learn more and join me in taking the Pledge.

LTYM Raleigh-Durham would also like to thank local video sponsor Myriad Media for videoing the performances.

Monday, July 8, 2013

J-Fest 2013: A Champion Boy

"He's a champion baby, Cyndi."

That's the first thing I remember my husband telling me about our newborn son after I regained consciousness following the c-section. Once he persuaded me that I wasn't actually dead, that proud new papa talked a blue streak about our sweet baby boy to bring me back to my now-expanded family.

"You should see his hands! He's amazing. Just a champion baby." He said it like I'd had some control over how this tiny baby had turned out, like we had really accomplished something.

And considering that we had just made an actual, real-live person, I guess we really did accomplish something.

Eight years later, that champion baby has turned into a champion boy. Eight.

It's a funny age -- too big to be little, yet still too little to be big. Some days, I think even he doesn't know which direction he wants to lean. And I'm not so sure either.

I love so many quirky things about the Junius who is temporarily trapped between infant and teen...

...that he says "funiture" and "tooken," but can explain the difference between a slapshot, a snapshot and a wrister.

...that he wants me to read to him at night, even though he can read whole chapter books on his own.

...that he asks to snuggle with me on the couch, even though he's so big I can barely pick him up anymore.

...that he cracks up at the poop jokes on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, even though he doesn't understand the news context of most of the show.

..that he sleeps with Baby and Blanket tucked close beside him in bed, even though he leaves them at home when he sleeps over at a friend's house.

...that he asks me about my day sometimes, but mostly just wants to know if my favorite part of the day involved him.

In another eight years, he will ask to borrow the car and I will wonder where the time has gone. He'll probably know how to conjugate the verb "to take" by then and he likely won't be clutching a small, white teddy bear in his sleep. But with any luck, he'll still want to curl up on the couch with me and read a book or just talk about the day. And I'll try in vain to resist the urge to tell him he's still my champion baby.

Happy birthday, Junebug. I love you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Moral Monday: Safe Schools

I wasn't at yesterday's Moral Monday rally. But that doesn't mean I'm not outraged. Unfortunately, much of what I'm worked up about won't fit on a protest sign. Starting this week, I'm going to attempt a Monday post in solidarity with those protesting at the NC legislature -- I realize it's not the same as getting arrested for the cause, but at least it's something.

So much in education policy seems to fall according to political lines. Democrats want more funding; Republicans want more competition. Democrats claim schools are doing well; Republicans claim schools are failing. Democrats want to believe that the latest big idea will save public schools; Republicans want to close them all down.

Okay, that's a wild exaggeration. But you get the idea.

The sad thing is that I honestly believe most Republicans and Democrats -- and the Independents and unaffiliated -- want the same big-picture things when it comes to public education. Safe schools. Quality instruction. Graduates with marketable skills.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

When I hear my state legislature talk about placing armed security guards in schools at the same time they want to cut teacher assistant positions from the budget and increase class sizes, I know they've completely missed the point. You simply can't cut teacher and teacher assistant positions and claim to want safe schools.

For a moment, let's forget about the academic, social or emotional reasons why you might want your young child to be in a elementary classroom with, say, 20 classmates, a licensed teacher and a licensed teacher assistant -- forget about the opportunities for enrichment or additional support. And forget about the professional reasons why you might want a teacher to have working conditions that don't include managing, say, 28 six-year-olds without any additional staff.

For a moment, let's just think about this in terms of security. Having more teachers in the classroom helps keep children safe.

In catastrophic situations, teacher assistants make it possible to protect more children. Think back to some of the horrific school tragedies of the past year in places like Newtown, Connecticut, or Moore, Oklahoma, where teachers, counselors and administrators risked their own lives to protect the children in their schools.

One of the recurring thoughts for me as I read all the stories of heroism shining out on those unspeakably dark days is, "How do you decide?" If you're the teacher in those classrooms, how do you decide which kids you can hold onto in the storm or which ones you can hide in the closet while the school is in lockdown.

Extreme? Sure, and thankfully so. But it's still our reality.

Even under more ordinary circumstances -- ones where students are misbehaving, bullying or (in today's softer parenting language) simply "making bad choices" -- teacher assistants make a difference for security. It can be challenging for teachers to ensure that all students feel safe when it's a large class and there's no teacher assistant.

Another professional adult who also knows the students well -- not just a parent volunteer (as great as they can be) -- makes it possible for one teacher to address the threat while the other adult continues to lead the class. Anytime you can have another set of eyes, ears and hands in the classroom, every child is safer.

So here's my proposal for the Republican-led legislature and Governor's office as they hash out this proposed budget... Remember all that talk about wanting to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn? How about you connect that rhetoric with your speeches about job creation and start by finding funds to hire even more teacher assistants to help staff North Carolina's classrooms.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Super Ordinary Boy

Today Dylan looked more or less like all the other second grade boys on the school field trip, with his gap-toothed grin, energetic legs, sweaty head and dirty fingernails, digging through the dirt for fossils at the Museum of Life + Science. In fact, most days when we see him, he's just like all the other kids.

Except for last summer, when we had to go to Duke Hospital to see Dylan. Then, for the first time since 2007, he looked more like a patient than the kid down the street. For two weeks, while a team of nurses and doctors poked and tested and treated him for an infection, we were reminded that in spite of looking and acting and generally being like all the other kids, Dylan has cystic fibrosis.

As CF patients go, he's been pretty healthy, according to his mom -- but his parents work hard to keep him that way. Each day, he takes more than 20 pills, three nebulizer treatments and two airway clearances -- and that's when he's well. If he has a lung infection, he can spend up to two hours a day doing breathing treatments. After his two-week hospitalization last summer, he spent another eight weeks at home on IV meds -- that meant no swimming in the pool for all of July and August.

So stop for a minute and imagine your daily routine with your kids.

Think about how full each day is and how often you're running late for school or work in the morning because they can't find their shoes or didn't remember their homework or need you to make an extra snack or are just generally being pissy. And think about how hard it is to get your kids to bed on time because there are always a hundred things, both real and imaginary, that suddenly have to be completed before you can get them to go to sleep.

Then imagine that in the midst of all that everyday chaos, you've also got to work in five different breathing treatments and convince your child to swallow 20 pills. Every. Single. Day.

Now if you're Dylan's mom, you don't complain about any of that. In the 7+ years that I've known her, not once have I heard her complain. Instead, she says things like this:
"That is a lot for a little guy to have to handle and as a mom it is hard to watch him having to endure all he does everyday. Dylan has made me a stronger person. He never gets a day off. I will continue to do all I can to keep him healthy until a cure is found."

On Saturday, my family and I will join with the rest of the Super Dylan Nation in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Great Strides Walk. We will wear our red shirts and wind our way through downtown Raleigh for 3.1 miles. We will marvel at how our little friend with cystic fibrosis can run the whole 5K. We will celebrate all that his family does to keep him healthy.
And I will also say a quiet prayer of thanks that we can do something -- however small -- to help make CF stand for "cure found."

Click here if you'd like to join us on the walk, share your support through a donation to the Super Dylan team (no gift is too small!), or learn more about the CF Foundation.

Need more convincing?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

One Amazing Night

On any given day, I probably have three blog posts lurking in my head somewhere. Unfortunately, on any given day, I probably have about two minutes to spend actually writing them down.

And so over time, those posts collect in my brain and my fingers and get all tangled up until it's too hard to write once I finally do carve out some quiet time. The topics become too important or involved or complex to throw down in a 15-minute burst, and so I keep putting them off. It's kind of like how I don't call my best friends who live far away because I want to be sure I really have time to talk to them and of course I never really have that kind of time and so I keep not calling until it would probably take three days to cover all the things we want to talk about and we end up with a seven-minute cell phone chat in the carpool line instead which is totally unsatisfying and yet still better than nothing.


So tonight I'm starting to unpack that very crowded brain, beginning with the thing that's probably hardest to put into words. Which is funny, I guess, given that the whole event was about showcasing writing.

Last week I had the incredibly good fortune to share a stage with 14 other local writers as we gave motherhood a microphone. The inaugural Raleigh-Durham edition of the Listen to Your Mother show was simply amazing -- and I say that not because I was in it.

It was amazing because it happened -- thanks to much hard work by Marty, KeAnne and others. It was amazing because so many people bought tickets that the show sold out the day before -- the audience was filled with friends and family who made me feel important by their presence. And it was amazing because of the live connection that I didn't know I craved until I was standing on stage.

It's one thing to sit here at my laptop, spill all these stories onto the screen and hit publish. Sometimes people will leave comments or send a tweet, occasionally someone I know will reference a post in conversation. For the most part, it's just me and the silence of my own writing.

So it's another thing entirely to stand in front of hundreds of people who are laughing and giving me real-time feedback as I read my writing aloud. I probably should have been nervous -- my pale face in the spotlight with nothing but a music stand to shield me as I confessed my story. Instead, I just felt connected, like I was part of something, like I was where I belonged.

The next day, I couldn't believe I had to go to work and make lunches and do carpool and the ordinary bits of things like nothing had happened. But I suppose that's just like the miraculous ordinary of motherhood.

When the nation LTYM site posts the video from the show on their YouTube channel, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I just want to say thank you to my friends and family who supported me with good wishes before and after the show, to my sweet husband who greeted me with two dozen (!) roses in the auditorium, and to my fellow cast members who made the whole amazing night possible -- I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready to take this show on the road.

Links to other blog posts from the LTYM-RDU cast following the show:

Monday, April 29, 2013

You're Supposed to Smile and Say "Thank You"

Compliments are tricky things, both to give and to receive.

Sometimes we put down ourselves as we lift up someone else -- if only I could be as talented as you. Often we deflect compliments -- this old thing? I got it on sale. Occasionally we give back-handed compliments -- you don't sweat much for a fat girl.

I find I'm better at giving them than accepting them. Not sure if it's a Southern thing or a female thing or just an insecurity thing -- but I always find it hard to just look the person in the eye and say, "Thank you." Thank you for noticing something nice about me and saying it out loud.

So reading my friend Marty's profile post about me as a cast member for the Raleigh-Durham Listen to Your Mother felt weird -- but also a little awesome.

Click to read her profile of me.

So thank you, Marty. Now I'll just be over in the corner blushing.

If you'd like to buy tickets to the show -- this Wednesday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Raleigh -- click here. And hurry -- there aren't many tickets left. Listen to Your Mother is a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother's Day. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Me, Only Louder With Friends

Some of you who read this blog have never met me outside the pages of the Internet, but many of you know me out in the real world in one way or another.

So when I found out I'd been selected for the cast of the Raleigh-Durham area Listen to Your Mother show, I felt a little weird about asking my friends to buy tickets to the show. Listen to Your Mother is a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother's Day -- this year launches the first show for Raleigh-Durham, one (okay, technically two, and actually lots more if you count Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Cary...) of 24 cities across the nation to participate for 2013.

Sure, the show is part of a cool national project -- but why would people who have to listen to me ramble for free want to pay money to listen to me read into a microphone?

Then I went to the first rehearsal for the show and heard the other 14 cast members share their stories about the good, bad and ugly in motherhood. And as I alternately laughed out loud and choked back tears, I lost any hesitation about publicizing this event.

I realize you probably don't know all 13 women and our lone brave man in the cast -- but you can meet them online now. Then buy your tickets to the show, where you'll spend a little over an hour feeling like you've just sat down for the most well-written coffee chat that you've even been to with your new crowd of favorite friends. Pinky promise, you won't be disappointed.

If you'd like to buy tickets to the show -- May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in Raleigh -- click here

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eye of the Beholder

Throughout my life, my mom has always told me that I'm pretty. That's a great thing for a girl's ego -- except that often my mother does it in the context of disparaging herself at the same time.

"I wish my hair were shiny and beautiful like yours -- mine is so gray and flat now."

"You have such a nice figure -- I can't wear dresses like that anymore."

"Your teeth are so straight and white -- I've always hated my teeth."

The truth is that my mom is pretty -- and I look a lot like her, so it must be true. She's also 28 years older than I am, so I have a bit of an advantage.

Her habit of putting herself down while simultaneously lifting me up always makes me self-conscious. It's not a competition, I want to tell her. We are always our own worst critics (see the latest from Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign for more on that one). We're both getting older and changing, but I like to believe that neither one of us looks our age.

Then I look at Pippi. And suddenly I see what my mom sees when she looks at me. She's perfect and gorgeous and way more amazing than I am -- but unlike me, she has always looked more like her dad than her mom.

Until today.

This afternoon, Pippi and I went to our favorite salon so that she could get a summer haircut and donate her beautiful, shiny, sun-streaked ponytail to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. As Stephanie snipped and trimmed a sassy little bob and Pippi winked and grinned at herself in the mirror, I watched my long-haired daughter start to look just a little like me for the first time.
Looking at her wearing my haircut -- and grinning from ear to ear -- made my heart melt just a little. When I texted pictures to my husband so he could see the new do, he texted back, "Beautiful! She looks like you now ;)" -- and that made me melt just a little bit more.

It's a funny thing about motherhood, how each stage makes me understand something about my own mother. I'm starting to get it, what she sees when she looks at me. When I look at Pippi, I know she's prettier than I am -- the difference is that she's already got such a big head (literally and figuratively), that I'll be keeping that opinion to myself.

Click here to see the 1977 photo of my mom and me in our matching (Dorothy Hamill) haircuts, along with photos of Pippi's first haircut.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On School Buildings and Why You Should Care

Powerful teaching and learning.

That's what I want my children to experience at school. That's what I want all children and teachers to experience at school. That's what I want the school board to focus on.

So if what I want is a Board of Education talking about powerful teaching and learning, then why do I care if my local school board retains control of school buildings? Because school facilities cannot be separated from academics -- an adequate and appropriate learning environment is a critical element of student success.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sens. Neal Hunt (Wake), Tom Apodaca (Henderson) and Pete Brunstetter (Forsyth), would give county commissioners the authority to assume responsibility for the design, construction, maintenance, renovation, acquisition and ownership of school properties. Currently in North Carolina's 100 counties, the county board of commissioners provides the funding for school property purchases and construction (because they possess taxing authority and the school board does not), but the county board of education is responsible for the design, construction and ownership of school facilities. This divide, sometimes awkward and often contentious, is unusual -- more than 90 percent of school districts in the nation have fiscal independence (meaning they have taxing authority to fund their own budget).

The proposed legislation would allow all North Carolina county commissions to seize property currently owned by school boards --some county commissions might take advantage of that option now (as appears to be the case in Wake County), while others could decline for now and exercise the right at any point in the future.

I'm writing from the perspective of a Wake County resident (the bill started in the fight between the school board and the county commission in Wake), but this proposed legislation makes it an issue for the entire state. Here's why this bill is a bad idea:
  • School buildings are about education, not real estate. Numerous studies have demonstrated the link between student achievement/behavior and the physical building conditions for students and teachers. Everything from lighting and paint to ventilation and HVAC impacts student success in a school. Think that sounds crazy? Imagine how effective you'd be at work if your office roof leaked onto your desk, your work space was too cramped to be functional, the heat stopped working and you had no access to natural light all day. Each student will spend more than 16,000 hours in these buildings before graduation -- teachers and principals will spend many more than that over their careers. They deserve dynamic spaces that encourage growth, creativity and intellect, not another obstacle to success.
  • Education decisions aren't business decisions. Sen. Hunt likes to argue that business people do a better job of managing real estate decisions than educators do -- and he has some lovely (but misleading) pie charts to show his analysis of the level of business experience on county commissions versus school boards. But schools are in the business of educating children, not making profits and paying shareholders. School boards must be fiscally responsible, but student achievement should be their bottom line. I don't want the cheapest school possible; I want the best educational environment for my money. Even the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce -- an entire organization of business people -- is opposed to this bill. And because county commissions already control the purse strings in North Carolina, they don't need this bill to manage the money.
  • Experience matters. The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) is an award-winning district when it comes to building design -- including nods from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Decades of experience inform the school board policy that defines design guidelines for school construction to ensure an effective learning environment, including everything from windows in classrooms to the size of science labs. School boards -- the elected officials closest to the classroom -- are in the best position to understand the complex requirements for a successful school. The county commissioners do not have a similarly strong track record with large building projects on this scale.
  • The user, not the owner assumes liability. There are unanswered questions in the proposed legislation around liability issues. The county commission wants the option to assume ownership, but they do not appear eager to assume any liability related to the buildings or the property. Because of the vagueness of the bill (whether intentional or not), school boards would still be liable for incidents on school property. In other words, school boards would be surrendering their expertise in design decisions as well as their power to impose risk management strategies during the design and construction processes, but still be held accountable for injuries sustained on school grounds. Not only is this bad policy, this uncertainly could result in poor bond ratings for the entire system (poor bond ratings make construction more expensive).
  • Checks and balances lead to better decisions. Leaving funding authority with the county commission maintains their control over taxing and bond decisions. Leaving design, construction and maintenance responsibilities with the school board maintains their control over the connection between school facilities and academic factors, student assignment, overcrowding, feeder patterns between grade levels and infrastructure needs to support teachers and students. Neither group holds all the power, resulting in a level of accountability that would disappear under the proposed legislation.
  • Politics are contentious enough. Given the division of authority between the school board and the county commission, there's already plenty for them to argue over in budget and bond decisions. This bill does nothing to solve the current challenges and actually makes them worse by removing those responsible for the schools from the process of creating them. In Davie County, just southwest of Winston-Salem, the school district can't get county commissioners to agree to fund the building of a second high school or renovations to the existing high school despite the fact that an independent analysis by the state (and any parent walking into the building) identified a desperate need (more on this from the W-S Journal and a Davie County blogger). 
  • Sales tax exemption isn't a good reason. Sen. Hunt argues that school boards pay more for construction because they have to pay sales tax on purchases, while county commissions are exempt. However, until 2005, local boards of education were able to use tax refunds. Many other groups, including cities, counties, public universities, private schools and other non-profits, can apply for a sales tax refund or exemption. If Sen. Hunt really wants to propose a useful bill for education facilities, he and the state legislature could eliminate this change and make local education authorities tax-exempt again.
There is one thing that Sen. Hunt and I agree on: school boards need to be able to focus on education. Unfortunately, he and Senate Bill 236 will cripple their ability to do just that.

Special thanks to Jennifer Brock, a Raleigh-based architect with years of experience in school design and mother of four WCPSS students, for her professional advising on this post.

If you'd like to write to your legislators on this issue, visit Wake Classrooms Count (if you're a Wake County resident) or search for your people here. Or use this list to email the members of the Senate Education Committee:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pippipalooza: Signs of a Big Girl

"I am five."

That's Pippi's new greeting -- she doesn't say hello anymore, just thrusts out her hand with fingers spread and proclaims her age as if it's the most important thing you need to know about her. Which, clearly, it is.

She's also been doing the things she's supposed to do -- occasionally -- and then announcing them with a knowing nod. "Look, Mommy. I'm brushing my hair without being asked. Because that's what five year olds do."

It's all a little comical, this notion that last month she was a baby and NOW she is a Big Girl. But it's also kind of true.

Here are five signs that she really is so very big:

1. Ice skating: She can now skate without holding onto a chair or a grown-up. It's not exactly speedy or graceful, but she can shuffle along on her own. This is a big deal when your older brother is a hockey player.
2. Dentist chair: At her recent dental check-up, she climbed right into the chair and leaned back without assistance -- no flinching, no complaining, no worries. At the previous visit, I had to lie on the chair with her stretched out on top of me during the whole exam and cleaning. I like this version much better.
3. New bike: She's still using the training wheels (although probably not for long), but her new big girl bike is the same size as her brother's. It's also purple (to match her new helmet) and has spinney glittery spectacularness on the handle bars. It makes her legs look oh-so long.
4. Bed decor: We still haven't totally finished decorating her nursery-turned-big-girl room yet (hence all the sketches taped all over her walls), but she actually has a duvet cover on her comforter now. It's grown-up Garnet Hill and beautiful. Thankfully, she still looks small all tucked in under it.
5. Potty: Now she's so big that she wants to use the bathroom alone. (Note that this does not translate into letting ME use the potty alone when we are at home.) I'm still jittery about allowing it in most public places, but now and then I try to give her a little privacy. Obviously, I'm not willing to go very far yet.

 Sigh. The days are long, but the years go by at the speed of light.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pippipalooza: Things She Loves to Do

Somehow Pippipalooza 2013 came and went already, without a peep here at the blog. My baby girl turned five -- or as she says, "a WHOLE hand" -- at the end of February. In true Convertible Life style, we celebrated the day for a full week. Between the festivities and the rest of life, the blog just couldn't keep up.

But even though Pippi is a second child (or perhaps because of it), I'm trying to be sure she doesn't get slighted (too much). So today is the start of a belated "Five Days of Pippipalooza" blog posts... beginning with five things she loves to do.

It's not exactly news that Pippi has strong opinions. Can't imagine where she got that from (ahem). Sometimes that can be frustrating (to put it mildly), but sometimes it's just fun to watch. Here are five of her favorite activities:
  1. Holding babies. I'm not sure if it's some sort of innate female baby-holding urge or just that it makes her feel big and superior, but she loves to sit on the couch and hold a baby. And by that, I mean a real live actual baby -- preferably one who is sleeping. Her current favorite arrived in November, so I'm not sure how much longer she'll be able to wrangle him -- but she sure does love him.
  2. Sleeping with her hair in braids. As someone without a single curly hair gene anywhere in her family tree, Pippi is destined to have stick-straight hair. With any luck, she won't have to endure the 80s perms like her mama did. But I still understand the desire for curls. So now and then, I braid her hair into about a dozen little twists at bedtime so that she can wake up to fancy.
  3. Coloring with "permanent markers." I do not know who told her about the difference between permanent markers and washable markers. All I know is that she understands the distinction and has determined that permanent markers -- especially Sharpies -- are infinitely superior. For Christmas this year, we gave her a roll of tape and let her  use it however she wanted (which translated to about four dozen original pieces of Pippi art being taped to the walls in her room in whatever places she could climb up and reach). Too bad for her that I'm unlikely to give her similar free reign with a set of Sharpies.
  4. Dressing herself. The lack of recent activity on the I Dressed Myself blog is in no way reflective of a lack of self-dressing on Pippi's part. She continues to prefer spring and summer outfits, which I can't really blame her for (as those are my favorites, too) but which are really inappropriate when it's 35 degrees outside. She also loves layering shirts and skirts or pairing leopard print leggings -- and of course, her pink cowgirl boots -- with just about anything.
  5. Dancing and singing. By far, dancing and singing are both her favorite things to do and my most favorite things to observe. Sometimes the singing gets a little out of control -- both in volume (so loud and high) and in quality (so many lyrics involving bottoms and what comes out of them). But Pippi has a gift for creating musical medleys to narrate her day or adding her own choreography to songs -- and sometimes both at the same time ("Call Me Maybe" anyone?). 
And now a little party favor for you, courtesy of Pippi herself...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Overheard: Smells Like Preschool Spirit

Each week, I drive Pippi and her friend Miss A to their afternoon dance class and then take Miss A home again. Eavesdropping from the front seat, I hear the news from preschool, learn which boys they plan to marry, and try not to laugh at their poop and fart jokes. Some weeks I wonder if the conversations will follow this same format when they're 10 years older.

Today Miss A mentioned that another girl in their preschool class had said something not very nice to her. After a little prodding from me, Miss A finally confessed that the girl told her she smelled like a monkey.

I stifled a grin, then asked if the girls knew the alternate version of the happy birthday song -- you know, the one that ends with the always clever line, "You look like a monkey, and you smell like one, too."

In spite of their obvious distress over the initial insult, they started to giggle about the song. So I asked Pippi to take a big deep sniff and double-check if Miss A did in fact smell like a monkey. Here is the delightful conversation that ensued.

Pippi: You do NOT smell like a monkey. You smell like a unicorn!

Miss A: And YOU smell like a hairbow! No, a pony! [Note: I took that to be the My Little Pony scent, as opposed to the horse manure fragrance.]

P: No, I don't, silly. Tell me I smell like a princess!

A: You smell like a princess! No... a QUEEN!

P: No... my mommy smells like a queen! I smell like a princess and my daddy smells like a king and my brother smells like a knight.

So, in the spirit of positive preschool thinking, we're rewriting the song: "Happy birthday to you! You wear a tutu! You look like a princess, and you smell like one, too!"

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Raleigh iPhone Repair Fail

If the worst thing that happens to me this week is that my iPhone can't be fixed, then I probably really shouldn't complain, right?

But of course I'm going to anyway. Consider it my public service cautionary tale for those seeking iPhone repair in Raleigh.

A few months ago, my iPhone tumbled out of the pocket of my coat onto the sidewalk at a precise angle that caused the screen to shatter in a spider web pattern shooting out from one side of the phone. Thankfully I had one of those clear protective sticker things across it, so it held the broken screen together and I was able to continue using my injured phone without any trouble.

On Tuesday morning, I finally take it to a local iPhone repair shop* that recently opened on Glenwood Avenue. The store is a third location for the company, which already has locations in Apex in Fuquay-Varina -- the Apex shop had been recommended by a friend, but Glenwood was so much more convenient. I drop off my phone with Tattoo Guy, run a few errands and return an hour later to a brand new screen for $80 including tax.

Magic! I am delighted.

Tuesday afternoon, my phone rings and I answer it -- only to discover that my friend can't hear me unless I am on speakerphone. After calling two more people to test the phone, I discover that in fact my phone -- which previously had functioned COMPLETELY FINE despite the cracked screen -- no longer works properly AS A PHONE.


I promptly call the repair shop and am told that my phone probably lost a connection and to bring it in and they would fix it. So I do that on Wednesday, thinking it will be no big deal.

After watching Tattoo Guy take the back off the phone, poke at everything, put it back together, make a failed call and repeat the whole process with no success, I get nervous. He then informs me that my phone has water damage and it must have affected the microphone.


Apparently Apple puts these little white stickers inside your phone -- when they get wet, they turn red. Sure enough, the tiny indicator sticker at the bottom of the inside of my phone at the charger port and beside the microphone was red. This is, of course, the same phone that had previously worked TOTALLY FINE and has never been dropped in water or spilled on. And I'm supposed to believe that my phone -- which worked TOTALLY FINE -- coincidentally stops working during the exact hour that I take it in to have the screen repaired. Um, sure.

He can replace the part, he tells me, but will have to get it from the Apex store because he doesn't have one in stock. He'll even "give" me $10 off the part, possibly because of the daggers that were shooting out of my eyes at him.

But what else am I supposed to do? Nothing is visibly wrong to suggest that they broke something. I don't have the knowledge, skills or tools to repair it myself. And I'm trying hard to remind myself that Tattoo Guy doesn't gain anything by purposefully screwing up my phone.

So this morning I take my phone BACK AGAIN at 9:30. Tattoo Guy tells me it will take about 30 minutes, so I go sit in my car and read through some reports for work. Of course, he has my phone, so I can't check email or catch up on phone calls, but I can't afford not to be working.

At 10:00, I go back inside the shop. He tells me the part didn't work and Apex Guy is bringing a different part, so it's going to take a little more time. Right.

When I tell him I need to use space at his counter and his wifi code so that I can work on my office laptop while I wait, he looks at me like I'm crazy -- then he must notice the actually crazy look in my eye and pulls a stool around to the counter for me before telling me the code.

Did I mention that they have the movie "Elf" playing on continuous reel on a television at the store counter? For all three days? And I realize that probably sounds like a treat to some of you, but to me it seemed like seasonally inappropriate taunting.

At 11:30 (TWO HOURS after I initially came in), I have to leave for an event at Junius' school. I tell Apex Guy that I have to go and will be back in an hour, then ask if there's any chance my phone will actually be fixed today. "He's working on it," Apex Guy assures me flatly. "Your phone is acting weird."

Right. Because you know, my iPhone has that quirky personality that can sometimes be hard to manage -- or maybe someone put a hex on it for Mardi Gras.

When I walk back into the store at 12:45, Tattoo Guy comes out of the back room holding my phone and says, "Yeah, it won't work. You're going to have to call Apple. I looked up some of the online info, and apparently this can happen after an impact."

Wow. So not only are you incapable of fixing my phone, but you also have no customer service skills either.

And this whole thing is just a crazy coincidence. Or as Tattoo Guy put it, "It's an electronic. Things happen." Um, sure.

At that point, I was done. I grabbed my phone from his hand, shot the stink eye one last time, turned on my heel and left. As I drove away, clutching the steering wheel in an angry death grip, I started up a variation of "Serenity NOW" as my new mantra:

"Lord, help me let this go."

Because really, if I've got a wonderful husband, beautiful children, a healthy body, great friends, loving family, a nice home, a good job and a new-ish car with heated seats, am I really going to let a broken iPhone mic destroy my whole day?

Okay, maybe for a little bit, I did. Because it just really sucks.

But now I'm better -- thanks for listening. And if you know any trustworthy iPhone repair shops in the Triangle area, let me know.

Update, 2/19/13: Since last week, I've discovered that basically anything that requires my phone to make a sound no longer works properly. That means my phone won't ring when someone calls or texts, I can't listen to music, I can't use the the alarm (except for the buzzing noise that the "vibrate" function makes), and I can't hear the little Spanish-speaking voice on the Duolingo app that Junius and I are using to practice Spanish words. Awesome.

*Update, 1/18/17: WRAL investigated this place back in 2013 and 2014 and the whole business got shut down. I've deleted the link to the store, as it no longer exists.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The pictures in the International Association of Professional Birth Photographers Image of the Year Competition were disturbing, but not for the reason you might think.

Yes, you can see naked lady parts and babies covered in blood and goop -- but vaginas and body fluids are all part of childbirth, so that wasn't what bothered me. It was seeing all the mothers and fathers working as active partners in labor and delivery.

The couple kissing in the tub and cradling their fresh newborn. The sheer joy and relief and amazement in the mother's face as she holds her baby before anyone else does. The still messy baby burrowing into his mother's chest. The father looking on in awe at the power of the life arriving in front of his eyes.

I didn't get any of those moments.

I know I'm supposed to be grateful that my children were born healthy and beautiful, that we had great medical care, that everything turned out fine. But I'm still sad sometimes about having two c-sections.

And then I saw the photo that stopped me in my tracks. It was so unexpected that I had to turn to my husband. "I need to ask you a really strange question: is that a stomach? Because I don't think it could be a vagina."

It's photo #73. I'll give you a minute to go look, although my squeamish friends might want to glance quickly.

Turns out it's the view that I never saw when I was flat on the operating table -- the cesarean incision pushed apart as the doctor's hands pull and tug and wrestle a baby out into the world. My husband recognized it because (despite instructions to keep his seat next to my head) he had peeked over the screen when we were in the operating room.

Seeing that moment captured on my screen was mesmerizing. A little terrifying to look at, and yet incredible to see that my body could do that. Even when I was flat on my back, staring at the ceiling and numb from the ribs down, I wasn't passive. My body allowed a doctor to pull a baby -- my baby -- into the world to breathe. And then that same body somehow unbelievably healed itself over time (okay, a lot of time) to do it all over again.
I think I'll still get that twinge when I see a Hollywood birth moment that seems so magical and natural. But at least for now, I'm going to hold photo #73 in my head and remember how my husband and I worked together in the birth of our beauties.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Best Hashtag You've Ever Seen

Have you had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day?

Too many meetings bringing you down? Kid chaos wearing you out? Messy house ruining your view?

You could try a glass of wine to take the edge off. Or maybe go for a run to burn off some stress. Or even just scoop a loved one into a big hug to make you feel okay again.

But sometimes you need a faster, simpler pick-me-up to turn that frown upside down.

And here's where I'm going to change your world in three easy steps:

  1. Get your phone or tablet.
  2. Go to Instagram.
  3. Search for #vivioftheday. 
Here's one sample of the gorgeousness there for you:
Those cheeks, those lashes, those pouty lips, and (did I mention) those CHEEKS! How can you NOT smile when you see that face?! I'm seriously considering making myself a set of cereal bowls with these photos just so I can start my day off right (you might prefer a coffee mug set, but I don't drink coffee).

Now for those of you not paying close attention, I should clarify that this is not my child. This round loveliness belongs to my sweet beach friend, who kindly agreed to hashtag photos of her daughter Vivi so that I could find them quickly when I needed a smile. I mean, my own kids are cute, but they're all long and lean now -- it's just not the same.

So there you have it. Wherever you are, whatever the time of day or night, a smile awaits you at #vivioftheday.

You're welcome.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Recipe: Sweet Potato Apple Soup

Being a convertible girl, I'm also very much a warm weather girl. I love sun dresses, sandals, gin & tonics and all the other loveliness that comes with spring and summer.

But there are a few things that make fall and winter worthwhile. Stylish boots, sweater dresses, 7& 7... and soup. One of my wise friends actually refuses to say the word "fall," instead calling it "the season of soup." It does sound much more appealing.

Thanks to combined recipes from another friend and a magazine, I made a delicious (and easy and healthy) soup last week that you definitely want to try out -- what I love most about it is that it's a smooth, creamy soup without any dairy in it.

My version is the first recipe below, with a variation from my friend (including her notes) below that -- or you can go to Real Simple online and use theirs.

Sweet Potato Apple Soup


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded and cut into pieces (it had been in my pantry for far too long and needed to be used)
  • 1 apple (I used Granny Smith but others would work just fine), peeled and chopped
  • 2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • generous pinch ground nutmeg


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add the sweet potatoes, acorn squash, apple, broth, nutmeg, and 1½ cups water to the saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
  3. Use a handheld immersion blender to puree until smooth. (If you don't have an immersion blender, you really should buy one. Or, working in batches, you can transfer the mixture to a blender and puree, adding more water if necessary to reach the desired consistency.)

Golden Winter Soup


  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 5 cups 1/2 in. cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
  • 1 russet potato peeled and cubed
  • 1 granny smith apple peeled and cut
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (optional -- when I add it I don't add as much broth or it can get too salty)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 medium leeks sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (low-sodium might be a good option if you do the salt)
  • 1 cups half-and-half


  1. Melt butter in large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add squash, potato, salt, and pepper to pan; sauté 3 min. 
  2. Add leek; sauté 1 min. 
  3. Stir in broth; bring to a boil. 
  4. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 min. or until potato is tender stirring occasionally. 
  5. Blend to a smooth consistency.I use my immersion blender to get a smooth consistency. You can also put half of it in the blender and then pour into bowl and then pour rest into the blender. After it is blended, you stir in the half-and-half.